RESIDENTS are vowing to fight plans to build a new quarry on land that separates two villages.
More than 200 gathered for a public meeting last Wednesday night, where they learnt about the proposals and were able to question borough and parish councillors.
If it goes ahead, residents say that the gravel extraction pit would damage the local environment, pollute the air and the River Loddon and put more traffic and HGVs on the Basingstoke Road between Swallowfield and Spencers Wood.
But they argue that the proposed 25-hectare site is also too close to a primary school, a nursery and a play area – and it is not yet known if the planned location contains enough gravel to make digging it up worthwhile.
And they want residents to take part in a consultation that Wokingham Borough Council is currently running, to let their views be know.
It was standing room only at the meeting, which was held in the wedding marquee at The Mill House hotel in Swallowfield.
The venue would back on to the new quarry if it is built.
Corinna Bull chaired the event and gave a presentation outlining causes for concern.
“The land is currently unspoiled British countryside,” she said. “It is a very beautiful piece of land.”
At the meeting last Wednesday, Mrs Bull explained that councils are “obliged” to have a minerals plan, just as they have to produce a local plan detailing five year land supply. With the current plan due to run out, Wokingham Borough Council has teamed up with neighbouring councils including Reading Borough and Bracknell Forest to produce a revised document.
“Councils are obliged to have an up-to-date minerals plan, talking about where they are going to get minerals such as sand and gravel. The plan means they can plan ahead for the next decade or two, rather than responding to individual ad hoc applications.
“The current plan for our area is out of date and doesn’t comply with National Planning policy framework. Four councils have got together to develop one integrated plan, which will consider all our needs right up until 2036.”
Mrs Bull set out four reasons for residents to object to the plan, including air quality, saying that research shows that when a quarry is built there is an increase in suspended particle matter.
“Small particles can be breathed in potentially causing health issues. Large particles are deposited on properties, trees and verges,” she explained. “In fact, any of you who’ve ever driven the A327 road from to Hartley Wintney, you’ll know what that looks like.”
These particles can travel 400 metres, while Lambs Lane Primary School is just 370 metres from the proposed site.
“The next impact would be noise,” Mrs Bull said, adding that they calculated the volume of traffic on the road and the gravel extraction would exceed the recommended noise level set out by the World Health Organisation.
There were also fears that the extra HGVs on the roads would cause issues.
And with flooding on the agenda – the Blackwater River and the Loddon both burst their banks last week, flooding Swallowfield – Mrs Bull highlighted the potential risk to residents. She showed photos of the proposed gravel pit quarry underwater.
The final point that Mrs Bull raised was the ecology of the area. “The site is home to protected species such as barn owls and grey crested newts,” she said, adding that the area was one of “high archaeological potential”, with three listed buildings near the site.
Last year, Shinfield parish residents came together to fight plans from Cemex to build a quarry on land at Bridge Farm and campaigners are hoping that a similar number of people respond to the current consultation.
“We need to make our communities views’ heard now that this is not an appropriate site, and that the site must not go into the plan. It is much harder for us to defeat a planning application if the site is in it,” Mrs Bull said. “There were 1,400 responses to the Shinfield consultation. We can match or exceed that.”
Speakers included borough council leader John Halsall, who stressed that the council couldn’t be seen to have a view, lest it be seen as pre-determining a planning application.
After a question and answer session, which allowed residents to air their concerns, Mrs Bull urged people to sign the consultation.
This can be found at www.hants.gov.uk/berksconsult. It is also possible to respond by emailing email@example.com or writing to Central and Eastern Berkshire Authorities Joint Minerals and Waste Plan, c/o Hampshire Services, Strategic Planning, Hampshire County Council, First Floor Elizabeth II Court West, The Castle, Winchester SO23 8UD .
The closing date for the consultation is Monday, March 23, at 5pm.